The Euros final between England and Italy will be held at Wembley Stadium. As I walked out the door wearing a St George’s flag waistcoat, my wife Celia said, ‘Is this wise?’
‘Football is returning!’ I retaliated with a defiant yell. ‘I had to be there since we haven’t reached a final since I was 16 months old.’
‘Well, as long as Covid isn’t coming home with us,’ she grumbled.
I emphasised, ‘It’s Covid-safe and well-regulated.’ ‘Everyone present has to show confirmation of being fully vaccinated, like me, or having a negative lateral flow test within the last 48 hours,’ says the doctor.
As I was saying this, our television was displaying live footage from Wembley Stadium, which had already descended into anarchy, with claims of tens of thousands of ticketless supporters on the loose since 6 a.m.
‘Doesn’t appear to be very safe,’ Celia noted – and she was accurate.
There was a highly explosive and tumultuous environment all around the area, unlike the other two England games I’d attended during the tournament — against Scotland in the group stage and Denmark in the semi-final.
Wembley Way was a cannabis-stinking, beer-sodden, seething, brawling, chanting, tinderbox by the time I arrived with my three sons around 5.30pm.
I’ve seen enough football matches over the last 45 years to know when things are likely to ‘kick off’ without involving a ball, and this was one of them. For the first time, I’d be in the ordinary stands, directly in front of the hardcore fans, rather than in a cosy hospitality box.
When we got at the first security checkpoint, it was chaos as a swarm of inebriated, violent, ticketless yobs tried to push their way through. It wasn’t like having a recognisable face was a huge plus in this case.
‘Need some help, Piers?’ remarked a man who arrived abruptly at my side.
He marched up to a steward on the other side of the barrier and said, ‘I’m Mr Morgan’s security guard and concerned for his safety – OK if he and his family come in here?’ Before I could respond, he marched up to a steward on the other side of the barrier and said, ‘I’m Mr Morgan’s security guard and concerned for his safety – OK if he and his family come in here?’
The irritated steward spotted me, said ‘Yes,’ unlocked the metal gate, and hurried us through without checking for tickets or valid Covid status.
As he did so, my ‘bodyguard’ and his companion rushed through the door, their arms protectively around us. They both bolted away, laughing. They couldn’t care less about my safety because they’d utilised me to avoid having to pay for tickets or Covid checks.
Similar chaos greeted us as we neared the second security gate, the automated turnstiles used to enter the stadium. Nobody verified our Covid status, and I saw ticketless fans pressing through with individuals who had tickets, then getting into conflicts with people inside who had spent a lot of money to be there and hated those barging in for free.
My faith in this event being Covid-safe had faded – it was devolving into an unregulated free-for-all.
Things were a lot calmer once we got inside. A few individuals approached me for pictures or a polite talk (one man said, ‘Piers, my mother has a granite tile with your face on it!’ in an odd moment). I wore a mask for the majority of the time when I wasn’t eating or drinking (“It’s on my phone,” she said, showing me a snapshot of the tile marks that did indeed resemble me), and I wore a mask for the majority of the time when I wasn’t eating or drinking.” However, here’s a completely unsurprising fact: drinking alcohol lowers your inhibitions.
After the third pint, I got less cautious, and when my comedian pal Jack Whitehall entered and was immediately approached by two female admirers who wanted to photograph me, I couldn’t resist cheerfully posing, sans mask. I ignored my Covid advice because I was more interested in seeing how humiliating Whitehall’s new duty as my unpaid paparazzi would be.
I kept telling myself, ‘We’re all vaccinated or have tested negative.’ ‘It’s all right.’ But, given that thousands of people were now at the stadium without tickets or Covid checks, this was just the booze talking.
The game was excruciatingly stressful, yet the strain was temporarily relieved when a massive inflatable penis was released and sailed right over our heads. ‘Lovely tribute to you, Piers, you enormous c**k!’ shouted someone several rows away.
The atmosphere was great, the drama was torturous, and the ending was heartbreaking. But, as we went home after the penalty shootout, our voices hoarse and our hearts broken, the lads and I agreed on one thing: it had been one of the most unforgettable moments of our lives. I just hope it wasn’t the Covid super-spreader I’m afraid it turned out to be.
I’m down at my Sussex village house, and I’ve been feeling a little under the weather since the afternoon. I blame it on the noxious hayfever I’ve been suffering from since early May, which has turned me a walking zombie on several occasions when the pollen count has been high.
My head was burning up by this evening, and a thermometer verified a temperature of 38.9C. (102F). I also started having sporadic attacks of intense sneezing.
‘I’m sure you’ve got Covid from the darn football,’ Celia replied, not kindly.
‘If that was Covid, I wouldn’t be sneezing like this,’ I said. ‘It’s most likely just a cold.’ ‘Do you recall those?’ (It’s been 18 months since I’ve had a common cold.)
We had a spare quick lateral flow test in the home, so I took it, gagging as the swab slapped my tonsils and made my eyes wet as it intruded into my nasal cavity – and it showed a clear result approximately 15 minutes later: positive.
‘How about that?’ Celia inquired.
‘I’m expecting a child,’ I said.
She said, ‘Hilarious,’ but she wasn’t laughing. ‘Does this indicate you’ve got it for sure?’
‘Not absolutely, but most likely,’ I said. ‘It appears that 99.9% of positive lateral flow results are correct, but a large number of negative ones aren’t.’
To be sure, I scheduled a more definite PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test for the next morning, and Celia bolted from our bedroom like a greyhound from a trap.
‘You’ll see me in a hazmat suit the next time you see me,’ she replied.
I drove myself to a car park in Haywards Heath, a few miles from my hamlet, at 9 a.m., where a very fast and energetic team of individuals taught me how to do a PCR test in my car and bag up the sample for them. More gagging and eye-watering ensued, but the system worked well, and I was in and out in about ten minutes.
As I drove away, one of the crew yelled, ‘Good luck, Piers!’ Those statements were strangely unsettling to me.
My fever had risen to 39.5 degrees Celsius (103 degrees Fahrenheit) by lunchtime, and I was suffering furious chills, a thick head, and more forceful sneezing. I went to bed because I was as rough as a badger’s a***, as they say in country quarters.
Later, Celia sent me the front page of today’s Sun, which featured a Wembley yob bragging about how he drank 20 cans of cider, snorted enormous amounts of cocaine, lit a flare up his bottom (in a viral scene), and then bribed a steward to get into the final without a ticket.
‘Is that what you meant when you said Covid-safe?’ she inquired rhetorically.
I saw ITV Health Editor Emily Morgan on the news tonight reporting from Royal Preston Hospital, where 60% of the 60 Covid patients currently in ICU or on an acute ward had not been vaccinated, and many of them are pretty young.
‘It’s nearly unbelievable,’ she continued, referring to the size of the figure.
‘There are fit and healthy persons on ventilators in their 30s.’ These are people who are eligible for the vaccine but choose not to get it for whatever reason, and are now struggling for survival. Scientists and Ministers have been warning us for months, but seeing the consequences of not having the vaccine is no less startling.’
Unfortunately, we’ve also been treated to warnings from conspiracy theorists that the vaccines are a terrible government ploy to control our minds, as well as from major media individuals who should know better, who are always attempting to minimise Covid’s danger.
Darren Gaskell, a 28-year-old man who received the infection from a friend in the pub, was one of the unjabbed patients. He said under an oxygen mask, ‘I didn’t think I was going to catch it.’ ‘I didn’t know anyone in my immediate circle who had Covid.’ I just assumed it was more of a global issue than a local one. I just didn’t think I’d be able to grasp it. I assumed that because I’m young, I’ll be able to fight it if I get it; it’ll just be a case of the flu, but it isn’t. I’ve never been that sick in my entire life. ‘I’m sicker than I’ve ever been.’
What was his message? ‘If I could go back in time, I’d get vaccinated.’ If at all possible, everyone should get vaccinated as soon as possible.’
At 7:14 a.m., my phone rang. ‘Your coronavirus test resulted in a positive result.’
So I’m one of the 5.52 million people in the UK who have been infected with the virus, with 129,000 of them dying within 28 days of testing positive for Covid.
It’s a strange, unsettling feeling to know I have this terrible virus inside me, as I’m sure everyone who gets it experiences.
I’m 56, with a touch of extra weight (but thankfully, a lot less than when I was on Good Morning Britain thanks to a new fitness regime and a better diet), and the memory of what happened to Derek Draper, the husband of my former GMB colleague Kate Garraway, is still fresh in my mind.
Derek, who is three years younger than me, is still in a coma 15 months after being brought to the hospital with a headache and breathing problems during the initial wave of the epidemic.
Of course, the key difference for me is that vaccines have now been created, and I’m double-jabbed with the Oxford/AstraZeneca one.
But we don’t know how effective the vaccines are at preventing serious illness or death – according to AstraZeneca, two vaccines reduce the risk of infection by 65 to 90%, symptomatic disease by 70 to 85%, hospitalisation by 80 to 99 percent, and death by 75 to 99 percent – and given how bad I’m feeling right now, that’s an unsettling uncertainty.
One thing is certain: if I hadn’t been vaccinated, I would have felt a lot more uneasy.
Dr Brian O’Connor, a top respiratory consultant who’s helped me at London’s Cromwell Hospital with various health issues in recent years, including a particularly bleak period three years ago when I ended up with five different afflictions ending in ‘itis,’ which he diagnosed as being due to presenting breakfast TV and the wreaking effect it has on one’s immune system, I called.
I said, ‘I’ve got Covid.’ ‘PCR results have been confirmed.’ As though I’d told him I’d been stung by a bee, he calmly replied, ‘Right, OK.’
Who wants an energetic doctor, after all? ‘You’ll almost certainly have been infected with the Delta variety,’ he added. ‘Unfortunately, none of the current vaccines entirely protects against infection with some of the new strains.’
They do, however, imply that the potential consequences of infection will be minimal.
As a result, you’re unlikely to be admitted to the hospital and even less likely to experience a quick deterioration in your respiratory condition.’ The good news was that.
The reassuring tail, however, had a sting in it. ‘With that stated, you may have a rough time over the next three to seven days, so keep an eye on your arterial saturations and let me know if they drop below 93 percent.’
‘Take paracetamol and, if needed, ibubrofen, as well as Vitamin D.’ In the event that you deteriorate over the weekend, I’ll prescription you a fire-fighting supply of steroids and antibiotics.
‘I hope you won’t need them unless your situation deteriorates.’ I’m not usually a pessimist, and the chances are extremely excellent that I’ll be fine, but as my brain began to boil, all I could recall from this talk were the terms ‘rapid deterioration,’ ‘torrid,’ and ‘worsening.’
Horrible night of high temperature, cold sweats, furious coughing and sneezing, and odd aches all over my body, none of which have been alleviated by the scorching heat that has turned my bedroom into a Saharan furnace.
And, while not feeling like a Walrus of Love, my voice now sounds like Barry White.
Several friends in whom I’ve confided have responded in ways that I would characterise as exemplifying their characteristics. Dame Joan Collins, who had seen all of my Wembley photos on Instagram, texted me, ‘Sending you much compassion, although it does serve you right.’
Sky News anchor Mark Austin, whose wife is a frontline A&E specialist, messaged, ‘Working on the obituary package already.’
‘How come the tributes didn’t come in last night…?’ I made a suggestion.
Susanna Reid, my former TV wife, who is up for the TRIC award for News Presenter of the Year against me and Huw Edwards, was more solicitous.
‘Chicken soup, water, and distant loving support,’ she stated. ‘Are you all right?’
‘Yes, that should be,’ I said. ‘The most terrifying thing is being alone late at night, wondering if you’ll be one of the unlucky ones.’
‘That 4.44am psychosis,’ says the narrator.
What’s more remarkable is that practically everyone I’ve told has either purchased Covid for themselves or has friends or family members who have. This Delta version can be found all over the place.
I’ve used the NHS app for contact tracing, however the primary focus there is on who you were in close contact with 48 hours before symptoms began when you’re contagious and don’t realise it. So I’ve been personally informing various people I’ve been in contact with in the last week, so they may get tested just to be safe.
Last Friday, I attended Amanda Holden’s 50th birthday dinner party on the Rosewood London hotel’s outside terrace, which included Simon Cowell, Alan Carr, and the vile David Walliams. I was sitting next to Keith Lemon’s Leigh Francis and his wife, so I contacted Leigh to tell him I had Covid and added, ‘It would have been absolutely hilarious if you two had gone home thinking, ‘He’s not as nasty as Morgan,’ only to find out I’d infected you with a lethal virus.’
He said, ‘Ha ha, we both said that!’ ‘However, we’ve all had testing and are fine.’
Lauren Silverman, Cowell’s partner, said they’d both tested negative before travelling to Barbados. ‘Have heard a lot of individuals getting Covid despite being double vaccinated,’ she texted. ‘Scary stuff,’ says the narrator. It’s something we’ll all have to deal with in the future. However, we are grateful for the immunizations.’
Andrew Marr, a BBC journalist, has spoken out about his own struggle after contracting the Delta strain at last month’s G7 conference despite being fully vaccinated. Marr experienced the same sneezing spells as me, as well as a mild sore throat and headache, chills, aches, and an up-and-down fever.
‘Like Government Ministers, I’d been using the glib phrase’mild to moderate symptoms’ when talking about people who’d been double-vaccinated having Covid, but it can be really, very bad,’ he told the Daily Mail’s Weekend magazine. I’m still alive and haven’t been hospitalised, so I’m a vaccine success by that criteria. I could have ended up in the hospital, or at the very least on a ventilator, if I hadn’t been vaccinated.
‘So, I’m not saying the vaccines are failing; far from it – what I’m saying is to be cautious.’ You can become sick even if you’re double-vaccinated and don’t have superpowers.
‘We need to open up and get the economy moving again, but we also need to recognise that this Delta strain is significantly more contagious than the previous one, and even two vaccines won’t protect you from serious sickness.’ If I had one piece of advice for anyone, it would be to not believe you’re invincible and to continue taking the safeguards that feel right to you.’ This strikes me as excellent advice, especially after reading this tweet by Rachel Wearmouth of the Daily Mirror: ‘I have a 28-year-old buddy who has been double-jabbed.
‘Since Thursday, he’s been in the hospital with Covid.’ I’m not sure who needs to know, but please be cautious. This infection is no laughing matter.’
He’s about half my age.
Meanwhile, Sajid Javid, the new Health Secretary, has revealed that he has Covid and will be self-isolating. He’s also up to date on his vaccinations.
I’m not sure which vaccine he received. According to the statistics, the AstraZeneca vaccine is substantially more likely to infect you with Covid than the Pfizer vaccine, yet both are equally efficient in preventing serious illness or death.
Both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak had close touch with Javid and should be self-isolating for ten days. Surprisingly, they declared this morning that they will continue to work under a new government pilot programme.
This looked egregiously tone-deaf, especially as the UK is still reeling from the ‘pingdemic,’ which has forced hundreds of thousands of individuals to isolate after being notified by the NHS app. A fast U-turn was accomplished after disbelief and fury exploded across the political/media divide. However, the harm has already been done.
As with the Dominic Cummings and Matt Hancock incidents, the public is left with the impression that the Covid restriction laws apply to those who make them, but not to the rest of us. This will result in lower compliance and a higher cost of life.
My temperature had subsided by late afternoon, and I was feeling much better.
‘A glass of wine?’ Celia inquired; yes.
But I couldn’t smell or taste anything when I drank the 2005 Chateau Batailley, which is generally one of my favourite clarets. It was almost as if I was sipping somewhat rusty water. I was surprised and perplexed, because I’ve never had a problem tasting food or beverages like tea or coffee before.
So I took another sip – but nothing happened this time.
For anyone who knows how much I enjoy fine wine, this is one of my worst nightmares.
My father couldn’t taste wine for eight months when he and my mother were both diagnosed with Covid in November, and he claimed the only benefit was that he could buy a £3 bottle of swill and pass it off as Chateau Latour.
I texted Dr. O’Connor to inform him that my condition had actually deteriorated dramatically.
He said, ‘Avoid fine wine during intense Covid because it would be wasted.’ ‘You’ll drink a lot of strong, inexpensive, and joyful wines, but you’ll skip the nuanced wines for a while.’
I exclaimed, ‘God, this Covid is the Devil’s work.’ ‘What exactly are we discussing here, Liebfraumilch?’
‘Cheap Rioja, rough Chardonnay,’ says the winemaker.
Overall, I believe I would prefer to die.
‘I can’t taste wine,’ I texted Susanna, who recognised the gravity of the situation right away.
‘That’s a catastrophe!’ she exclaimed. ‘But it’s for your own good; you’ll save a fortune, lose a stone, and now you’ll be able to join me on a night of glittering seas!’
I think Dante’s Inferno voyage through the Nine Circles of Hell was like a night on glittering waters.
Nothing expresses up the absurd reality of this historic moment more than our Prime Minister, Health Secretary, and Chancellor being locked up in self-isolation on Freedom Day.
Of course, I’m one of them.
And my hope that I’d make a rapid recovery lasted until 10 a.m. today, when I was hit with a sudden, crippling bout of exhaustion that kept me flat-lined in bed all day and feeling like I’d been ran over.
The majority of my other symptoms have gone away, but I now have a persistent and bothersome cough, which, like the taste/odor issue, can continue for weeks or even months after the infection has passed. Each day of Covid infection seems to bring with it a fresh set of surprises.
The forced repose has, on the other hand, provided me with ample opportunity to reflect on where we stand in this pandemic.
I used to think it was a no-brainer for fully vaccinated individuals to reclaim their liberty. But then I realised – largely because my 27-year-old, 24-year-old, and 20-year-old sons insisted! – how unfair it would be on younger people who haven’t yet been double-jabbed and thus wouldn’t be able to enjoy the same privileges.
‘Today you will see a lot of older folks whining about the young finally getting to experience the best part about being young,’ my eldest son Spencer, who had Covid a few months ago and is so far single-jabbed, tweeted. Many of these folks will also refer to their youth as the “best years of our lives.” Today’s youth gave up 17 months of their lives to help them. ‘I should be thankful.’ He has a valid point. If I could go back in time and be 27 again, I’m quite sure I’d feel the same way he does.
As the Delta variety spreads across the United Kingdom, the key concern is whether enough people have been vaccinated to prevent hospitalizations and deaths from spiralling out of control, as they have in past waves of the virus.
If they have, Boris Johnson’s bet on Freedom Day could pay off.
If they haven’t done so by the autumn, we could be facing another lockdown, which I believe most of us would find soul-destroying and which Boris might find politically destructive. We have no idea how the dice will land now that he has rolled them.